ALBUQUERQUE – Federal officials said Friday there are more Mexican gray wolves in the wild than there have been in each of the past five years, giving a glimmer of hope to a program that has struggled to return the endangered animals to the Southwest.
The annual survey results were released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after months of tracking the animals on the ground and from the air during helicopter and plane surveys done last month.
With at least 58 wolves in Arizona and New Mexico, the increase over last year’s 50 is welcome news for biologists and conservationists who were concerned about the future of the small population scattered across millions of forested acres in the two states.
Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle said the increase is evidence of incremental progress made by the program over the last year.
“We were successful in establishing the initial population of Mexican wolves in the wild, and we are building on that success,” he said. “Our team is addressing the two biggest threats to Mexican wolf recovery, limited genetic diversity and illegal mortality, and I am certain that we will overcome them.”
The latest census marks the first time in nearly a decade that wolf numbers have increased over two consecutive years. Tuggle called it a positive trend. “¦
For environmentalists who have been frustrated with the pace of the reintroduction, the census prompted them to push harder for what they said is the key to bolstering the wild population – more releases of captive wolves.
“Wolves are smart, adaptable animals, but they can’t make it alone,” said Eva Sargent, the Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife.
In the past five years, there have been more than a dozen transfers of wolves around the reintroduction area. But only once during that time – in 2008 – have managers released a new wolf.
Without new wolves, Tuggle and the environmentalists agreed the population’s genetics could be compromised. Inbreeding can result in smaller litter sizes and greater pup mortality.
Tuggle said the program plans to release more wolves within the next year and a half, but he declined to say how many or provide any details about the agency’s preliminary plans. Last year, he made the same statement, but no wolves were released.
Last year also saw New Mexico pull out of the program, and Arizona adopted a policy in which game officials there would consider releases only on a case-by-case basis.
The partnerships are important, but the agency has a responsibility to do “what’s fundamentally the right thing” for the wolves, Tuggle said.
“We think this is the year where we will do everything possible to try to make sure we iron out all the kinks that are in that fabric and be successful with releases,” he said.
The latest surveys show there are at least 26 wolves in New Mexico and 32 in Arizona.
Among the 12 packs documented in the two states, there are six breeding pairs. There haven’t been that many breeding pairs in the wild since 2006.
The surveys also determined there were at least 18 pups among the packs. The births helped offset the eight wolves that were found dead over the past year and the one wolf that program officials were forced to kill in December due to safety concerns.
Still, biologists are concerned about high pup mortality and the long-term effects that could have on wild-born pups being able to supplement the population.
Earlier in 2011, the recovery team had observed 38 pups. Less than half survived through the end of the year.
The Mexican gray wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, once roamed New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Mexico. Hunting and government-sponsored extermination campaigns all but wiped out the predator.
It was added to the federal endangered species list in 1976, and a captive-breeding program was started. The first batch of wolves was released in May 1998.
PLEASE WRITE LETTERS TO THE EDITOR TODAY! This increase is wonderful news, but these numbers are still perilously low. As the article states, Dr. Tuggle made the same promise to release more wolves into the wild last year, and it didn’t happen. Let’s keep the pressure on him to keep that promise this year!
The letters to the editor page is one of the most widely read, influential parts of the newspaper. One letter from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Tips for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience.
Below are a few suggestions for ensuring your message gets through clearly-your letter will be most effective if you focus on a few key points, so don’t try to use all of these. If you need additional help or want someone to review your letter before you send it, email it to email@example.com:
- Start by thanking paper for their coverage of this important issue-this makes your letter immediately relevant and increases its chances of being published.
- Stress that the welcome increase in numbers and breeding pairs, in spite of the deaths of nine wolves and more than half the pups born last year, shows that the wolves are amazingly resilient and able to thrive in the wild. They’ve done their part to succeed in the wild in the face of political opposition, killings, and removals; Director Tuggle needs to make sure the Fish and Wildlife Service does its part.
- Point out that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to keep more wolves in the wild by emphasizing tactics that help ranching and wolves coexist instead of removing wolves is starting to pay off.
- Emphasize that when packs are more stable they’re able to be better parents, and pups have a better chance at reaching adulthood and reproducing themselves.
- Point out that, while this is a positive step forward, this number is still dangerously low; Director Tuggle must keep his promise to release more wolves into the wild.
- Encourage the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to use all the means available to them to expedite more releases of captive wolves into the wild. The agency has been sitting on an Environmental Assessment that can end the ridiculous rule prohibiting new releases into New Mexico and letting wolves eligible for release into both Arizona and New Mexico sit in captivity. The stalling has to stop.
- Convey how important new releases of wolves into the wild are to increase the population’s numbers and genetic health– A population of 58 wolves is still extremely small and at risk from threats such as disease, inbreeding, or catastrophic events like the Wallow Fire, which burned through Mexican wolf habitat last year.
- Explain that there are wolves in captivity ready to be released and wolves in the wild that do not have mates; these wolves need more releases to form new breeding pairs and families.
- Talk about your personal connection to wolves and why the issue is important to you. If you’re a grandmother wanting your grandchildren to have the opportunity to hear wolves in the wild, or a hunter who recognizes that wolves make game herds healthier, or a businessperson who knows that wolves have brought millions in ecotourism dollars to Yellowstone, say so.
- Reiterate the ecological benefits of wolves to entire ecosystems and all wildlife. Wildlife biologists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams — just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters.
- Keep your letter brief, between 150-300 words.
- Provide your name, address, occupation, and phone number; your full address, occupation, and phone number will not be published, but they are required in order to have your letter published.
This article appeared in multiple newspapers; you can submit letters to any or all of them. Submit your letters here:
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- Las Cruces Sun-News 300 word limit Submit your letter here.
- Alamogordo News Submit your letter here.
Thank you for taking the time to submit a letter. The many letters to the editor expressing support for Mexican gray wolves published in the last year have made a real difference!
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